The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies be breast-fed for at least 12 months and thereafter for as long as mutually desired. The only acceptable alternative to breast milk is infant formula iron fortified and solid foods can be introduced gradually when the baby is 6 months old, but a baby should drink breast milk or formula, not regular cow's milk, for a full year.
"There aren't any rules about when to stop breast-feeding," says Ruth Lawrence, M.D., professor of pediatrics and obstetrics at the University of Rochester School of Medicine in Rochester, N.Y., and spokeswoman for the academy. "As long as the baby is eating age-appropriate solid foods, a mother may nurse a couple of years if she wishes. A baby needs breast milk for the first year of life, and then as long as desired after that." Formula, however, should not be continued after the first birthday. That's the time to introduce milk. For all babies the milk, however, should be whole milk. Low-fat and skim milk do not have enough fat and calories to supply the nutritional needs of a 1-year-old, explains John Udall, chief of nutrition and gastroenterology at Children's Hospital of New Orleans. At that age, "the child is growing so quickly, and the fat is so important for brain and central nervous system development," he says. "The recommendation that our daily intake of fat should compose less than 30 percent of our caloric intake does not apply to children under 2 years of age."
New on the market are special toddler formulas that claim to be better than milk. The formulas are good nutritionally, says Udall, but they're not necessary. "A well-balanced diet with milk and juices would be just as good in a healthy, normally active, normally growing child," says Udall.
William Klish, former chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Nutrition, says that if a child needs to take a vitamin supplement, the toddler formula, fortified with a full range of vitamins and minerals, including iron, can serve that purpose. In addition, the toddler formulas don't need refrigeration, making them a convenient choice for snacks away from home.
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